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Jordan Howard Regains Some Intrigue With the Philadelphia Eagles

There are many things that are said to never sleep. Evil is one of them, the city of New York is another. Since I became a parent, this tag can be attached to me too. But Philadelphia Eagles GM Howie Roseman is another prominent advocate of not needing to rest. In his case, since his return to the front office of the team in 2016, Roseman has rarely slept on the opportunity to add to his roster. He showed this attribute again last week, sending a 2020 sixth-round draft pick 1 to the Chicago Bears in exchange for running back Jordan Howard.

The Eagles had been linked to a whole host of RBs since the end of the 2018 season. There were rumors they were interested in former Kansas City Chief Kareem Hunt, but Hunt signed with the Cleveland Browns. They have continually been linked to another Browns back, namely Duke Johnson, but as of now Duke remains with the team that drafted him.2 Instead, the Eagles made a move for Howard, a player with some links to Joe Douglas, the Eagles vice president of player personnel. Douglas was in the Bears front office in 2016 when the team drafted Howard in the fifth round out of Indiana.

Track Record

Howard has been a productive member of the NFL community in his first three seasons in the league. With the Bears, he racked up 3,363 rushing yards on 778 attempts between 2016-18. Both of these marks are the third most among RBs in that span. He also has 24 rushing touchdowns, the sixth most at the tailback spot.

In overall PPR scoring, Howard has the 10th most points among RBs over the last three seasons with 615.10. This is an impressive achievement when one factors in an almost complete lack of receiving chops. Howard has averaged a mere 1.5 receptions per game in the NFL and has 58 combined targets over the last two seasons. This came after a disastrous receiving profile as a rookie, when he was able to reel in just 29 of 50 targets. But here are some players with whom Howard has enjoyed similar rushing production at the pro level.

It is fair to point out that Howard’s numbers have decreased every season since his rookie year. He managed an impressive 5.2 yards per attempt in 2016, but this figure fell to 4.1 in 2017 before dropping to 3.7 last season. He also began to see less playing time under Matt Nagy than he had enjoyed under John Fox.

In his two seasons with Fox, Howard played on 64.75 percent and 58.3 percent of all offensive snaps. This number was 58.05 in 2018. But Howard still enjoyed 16.94 opportunities per game (carries and targets) for a 27 percent share of the Bears offense. This was the 10th highest in the NFL. However, much of Howard’s best work came in the dying weeks of the season, as his splits for 2018 indicate.

His New Home

Doug Pederson has been the head coach of the Eagles since 2016. In these three seasons, the Eagles have afforded their RBs rushing opportunities at a near elite level, and they have been rewarded quite handsomely. Eagles RBs have 1,125 carries between 2016-18, the seventh most in the NFL. They have delivered the 4th most yards at 4,861, while also scoring the seventh most touchdowns with 36 rushing scores.

Yet despite this, the Eagles have not had an RB finish higher than RB24 in a season under Pederson. Indeed, in the last two seasons, their most productive fantasy backs have finished as the RB43 and RB42. Alexa, show me “running back by committee” please.

Below, you can see the leading rushers for the Eagles during the Pederson era.

The Eagles, whether by design or misfortune, have not had a true workhorse back in any season under Pederson. No RB has ever played more than 50 percent of the team’s offensive snaps in a season, with the most played by any back being the 45 percent enjoyed by Ryan Mathews in 2016. The 2018 crop was not, as already mentioned, especially productive both in reality or from a fantasy point of view.

A Happy Marriage?

Howard gives the Eagles something approaching a “lead back”, namely a player that they can trust to handle around 10-15 carries per game. This is the type of role that LeGarrette Blount enjoyed in 2017, and not to mention how the Eagles used Jay Ajayi in 2018 before he was lost to the season.

Of all the RBs currently on the Eagles roster, Howard is the only one with a proven track record of being a workhorse back. Howard has three seasons with at least a 54 percent share of his teams rushing attempts. The next highest is Josh Adams, who had 30 percent of the Eagles rushes last season.

As already made mention, Howard does little to answer the Eagles ongoing search for a receiving back. However, this is not a slight against Howard, as the Eagles haven’t had a reliable catcher out of the backfield for the majority of the Pederson era.

 TotalNFL Rank
RB Receptions21026th
RB Receiving Yards181023rd
RB Receiving TDs118th

There is a danger that Howard being on the field could lead to the Eagles offense becoming somewhat predictable. Yes, he may have caught a career-high 76.9 percent of his targets last season. But he only saw 26, and his 20 catches amassed the far from princely tally of 145 yards.

Therefore, if he’s out there, it could be a key to the opposition that a run play is coming. But, it should be noted, while catching the ball isn’t something Howard is great at, there are other ways he excels in the passing game. Lester A. Wiltfong Jr. of Windy City Gridiron noted that Howard did not allow a single sack as a pass blocker in 2018, while only allowing 1.5 over the last three seasons.
Howard may not run many routes, but if he can help keep Carson Wentz upright, that will extend drives and lead to more opportunities for Howard, like, say for instance, inside the red zone?

Twenty-three of 24 of Howard’s career touchdowns have come from inside the opposition’s 20-yard line. The other was from a mammoth 21 yards out. The Eagles have the third most rushing attempts inside the red zone over the last three seasons with 201. However, they have only scored 32 times, a touchdown rate of 15.9 percent. This is the 22nd best in the league. In 2018, this rate leaped all the way up to 16.4.

Howard had nine goal-line carries for the Bears in 2018, while Ajayi, Adams and Corey Clement combined for eight. If Howard can command most, if not all, of the Eagles goal-line work, he could produce as a solid fantasy RB without the need to be catching all those balls.

Summary

The Eagles have added another playmaker to their offense, giving it another weapon specializing in an area in which they were deficient. Howard is relatively cheap, and only under contract for another season. There is no reason to think his signing means the Eagles are done at the RB spot this offseason, either in free agency or the draft. The wait continues for a player to finally become a receiving weapon the Eagles have been without since the golden days of LeSean McCoy. You have to go back to McCoy’s 2013 campaign for the last instance of an Eagles back eclipsing 500 yards receiving.

At worst, Howard currently projects as the lead back on a team that profiles as one that should score a lot of points. This makes his current ADP in the mid- to late-seventh round something to monitor. His price has begun to rise recently, but he still might be undervalued.

Even without a strong receiving profile, Howard could be an ideal Zero RB candidate heading into the season.

  1. This pick could become a fifth rounder, conditionally.  (back)
  2. Indeed, his new coach has spoken of how you don’t just give away players of Johnson’s caliber.  (back)

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